Tactical Vehicles Get Smaller; Commercial Availability a Must, Vendors Say

By Dan Parsons
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Vehicle manufacturers are pursuing a trend of smaller, more mobile vehicles in hopes of capturing a vehicle market that is eschewing expensive developmental platforms for ready-to-go commercially available designs.
Among the product offerings at the annual Modern Day Marine exposition here were small, multipurpose vehicles that are both faster and cheaper than their hulking mine-resistant cousins. There were no mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles on display.
“We do see the increased need for ever greater protected mobility in ever smaller, lightweight, transportable configurations,” said John Bryant, vice president and general manager of joint and Marine Corps programs for Oshkosh Defense. “People think we make big trucks and we do, but we also provide protected mobility in light tactical vehicles, and they’re available right now.”
Oshkosh Defense took the opportunity to unveil its newest and smallest entry for the light tactical vehicle market, the 7-ton Special Purpose All-Terrain Vehicle, or S-ATV. The small, Humvee-sized vehicle is designed for unconventional warfare missions like long-range reconnaissance and surveillance and special operations. With a top speed above 70 miles per hour, the S-ATV “will leave a dune buggy in the dust” and fits inside either a CH-47 or CH-53 helicopter, but not a CV-22 Osprey. At less than half the weight of the company’s next smallest vehicle — its Joint Light Tactical Vehicle offering, the S-ATV can carry up to seven passengers.
Oshkosh, like many of its competitors, sees a market for such vehicles beginning next year with source selections for Special Operations Command’s Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1 competition.
Several other vehicles in the light/ultralight range were on display at the expo, including the Flyer, a 4,000-pound multi-mission wheeled vehicle — the result of a partnership between General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems and Flyer Defense. The Flyer, like the S-ATV, is designed to be reconfigurable for a variety of missions, including light strike, rescue and casualty evacuation and reconnaissance.
Lockheed Martin showcased its Common Vehicle Next Generation, which weighs in at 9,700 pounds and can reach speeds upwards of 80 miles per hour. It, too, can be reconfigured in the field to perform a variety of missions. Each company is marketing their inexpensive, multi-role vehicles to a smaller military with a wide range of objectives in varying terrains.
Modern Day Marine was also the first chance Oshkosh, Lockheed and AM General had to show off their JLTV offerings after netting engineering and manufacturing development contracts in August. All three vehicles were on hand for public inspection. For that program, as with nearly every other ongoing vehicle competition, the vehicles “take maximum advantage of commercial, off-the-shelf technologies,” said Scott Greene, Lockheed’s vice president for ground vehicles.
The three companies are contracted to build 20 vehicles over the next 12 months, nine of which must already have 15,000 “break-in” miles on them before delivery to the Defense Department for testing.
“All of our purchase orders are out,” said Bob Groller, Lockheed’s JLTV program manager. “We had to be ready to hit the deck running” when the contract awards were issued, he said.
After JLTV, the Marine Corps plans to buy a replacement for its Amphibious Assault Vehicles, which is now called the Amphibious Combat Vehicle. When that program, which is under development, ramps down, the service hopes to buy a Marine Personnel Carrier. Both Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems unveiled their offerings for MPC at the expo.
Unlike ACV, a reincarnation of the now-defunct Amphibious Fighting Vehicle, the Marine Corps is expected to buy only off-the-shelf vehicles that satisfy its MPC requirement, said John Swift, MPC program manager for BAE systems. Four companies have been awarded contracts to deliver experimental vehicles for testing next year.
Lockheed’s “Havoc” 8-wheeled vehicle weighs in at 59,000 pounds and can swim up to  eight miles. The vehicle has already been driven a total 1.2 million miles, which the company feels proves it capabilities.
BAE took the commercial, off-the-shelf approach one step further. It teamed with the Italian company Iveco Defense Vehicles, modified an existing vehicle that very nearly met the Marine Corps’ expected requirements and developed three test versions — one for engineering and troop comfort, one for swimming and one for blasting, Swift said. That meant that “a lot of the development was already done by Iveco, so it wasn’t nearly as expensive as designing the vehicle from the ground up,” he said.
Without the guarantee of a contract or reimbursement for research and development, creating a vehicle and marketing it to the military can be risky business. But the rewards are also greater with a road-ready vehicle, Swift said.
“It’s not necessarily economical on the front end for business, but what tantalizes the private sector is that there isn’t this languishing of 10 years of development. You can be in low-rate initial production in two to five years. Sure, you’re going to be paying for your internal testing and development, but the reward could come sooner.”
Photo Credit: Oshkosh

Topics: Business Trends, Combat Vehicles

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